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The Endgame in Syria
When Does Farce Become a Threat?

During the night, Syria’s al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front attacked the positions of ‘Division 30’, a group of fighters said to have been trained by U.S. forces in Turkey, killing five. The attack comes on the heels of yesterday’s report that Nusra disarmed and kidnapped 18 fighters from the group, including its leader and deputy. That report was disputed by the Pentagon in somewhat vague terms—the spokesman claimed no members of the “New Syrian Force” were captured or detained—but today, U.S. forces sprung into action, launching air strikes against Nusra positions in Syria.

The Obama Administration launched a training program in May with the goal of recruiting up to 5,400 ‘moderate’ fighters to counter ISIS advances in Syria. The program encountered difficulties, however, and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter testified earlier this month that only 60 fighters had thus far been trained. If these latest figures are reliable, the total number of these reliable, moderate troops trained by the United States fighting in Syria now drops to 37.

As our coverage throughout this week has reflected, these developments lend an element of farce to an otherwise gravely incoherent U.S. policy in Syria. After all, if the attrition keeps up, “Division 30” could soon accurately be renamed “Division of 30 Guys.”

But there’s a point at which the farce itself becomes a threat to U.S. interests. The Middle East is a region where perceptions of strength matter—almost as much as actual strength. And the image of a bloated, remote superpower that can only field 60 fighters (at the cost of millions), loses nearly half of them, and seems not to know it, is one that projects weakness and invites further attacks.

Of course, one of the reasons Washington isn’t a-flutter about these developments is that we know they’re trivial—that we could change things in an instant on the ground if we really wanted to. But therein lies the rub: If the Administration never stirs itself to act, all our potential might adds up to nothing more than 60 (now 37) guys, and impotence.

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  • Arkeygeezer

    They are probably training them to be politically correct soldiers. Don’t be mean, don’t hurt anybody, just sit there and sacrifice yourself for Democracy.

  • FriendlyGoat

    When we say “moderate”, do we mean non-Muslim? After all, between the men with families afraid of Assad, or families afraid of ISIL, or families afraid of some other faction in that mess, or Muslim men who are not at all sure they should not be aligning with the new Caliph, or men our trainers have reasons to not trust, it’s no wonder the numbers are small. Why are you blaming the USA for this?

    • Anthony

      “Why are you blaming the USA for this?” FG, there’s a purpose (audience) to the method – site inclines…

      • FriendlyGoat

        I’m here at TAI basically to remind these academics that there is an audience other than the one they always “target”.

        As for the article on Walker, thanks. He really is the worst of the worst running in the GOP field. He is also the one who would very likely choose Republican New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez as a running mate. He would “need” her, whereas Rubio and Bush do not.

        One problem we have is that Bush has raised an enormous amount of money, but most of it is in the super-pacs. If Walker becomes the nominee, the money just switches horses.

        • Anthony

          I’m glad you’re here as your voice adds to informed discussion. There’s a piece in the American Conservative Magazine (America’s Deep State) that underscores your last point.

        • Tom

          Thanks for the tip.
          I’m voting for Walker in the primaries.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Of course you are. Why would we expect anything else?

          • Tom

            And I have gotten the goat.

          • FriendlyGoat

            It’s not like I don’t know Walker has supporters. And it’s not like I would have trouble imagining you being one of them—-based on prior conversations.

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